There Are No Loopholes, Only Laws

David Ralston is getting another thrashing for being both an attorney and Georgia’s Speaker of the House. Under Georgia law, legislators who are also attorneys will notify Judges that their legislative duties take precedence over trials and other judicial proceedings. (Nota bene that phrase, ‘under Georgia law.’) It was noted in the original article in the AJC: “Under a state law dating back to 1905, judges and prosecutors must defer to the legislative schedule of any practicing attorney who serves in the General Assembly.”  

The soon-to-be-sold Cox Media Group has unleashed all their hounds in pursuit of Georgia’s House Speaker, as they have done before. This go-round began with a story on WSB-TV, along with Johnny Edwards at the AJC, Erick Erickson on WSB Radio, (and his other outlets) and political columnist Jim Galloway all trumpeting various aspects of the story, each of which has started and continues with a common theme: “The Speaker is a bad man and deserves punishment from someone and why isn’t he getting it?” The narrative spread to outlets as ‘respected’ as GPB’s Political Rewind and Debbie Dooley’s Atlanta Tea Purity email newsletter. Even retired talk-show host Neal Boortz has been pulled out of mothballs to call for sanctions. The outrage mob has been formed and is seeking the defenestration of David Ralston. 

This is a localized instance of the poisonous nature of our current public discourse -as set in motion by the media. It’s not “fake news,” but rather a narrative focused on the wrong thing.  Galloway was the first to inject the word “resign” into the verbal scrum by noting that no one had called for Ralston to do so. Erickson has now successfully shamed at least one House Republican into calling for exactly that. Dooley continues to urge her minions to mobilize -against Ralston. I have no doubt that Johnny Edwards has more stories in the can quoting someone who’s terrified of retribution from the “powerful Republican House Speaker.” (It’s interesting to note that former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams has not, nor have former governors Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes, who went so far as to say “He’s been piled on pretty heavy, but there’s another side to this. It’s foolhardy to call for his resignation.” ) That’s how you can tell this is an orchestrated political hit -it’s all aimed at the person while virtually ignoring the problem in the structure of the system. 

As an attorney, David Ralston is obligated to vigorously defend his clients, even clients accused of serious crimes, even clients he may dislike. Failure to do so would result in sanctions from the Georgia Bar. As a legislator, he has legislative duties that he and all other lawyer-legislators prioritize over judicial matters when the two are in conflict. Failure to do so would be a breach of Georgia law. Which code would Ralston’s detractors have him, or other attorney-legislators, violate? 

There are a number of options available that do not require tarring and feathering David Ralston. The law dates to 1905 -it could be changed, repealed or modified. (Just as it has been before, in 2006, when Glenn Richardson was speaker.) It’s not hard to come up with corrective amendments -Delays could be set at a fixed number, or a fixed number of days per case. Judges could be given discretion in deciding what’s reasonable. I claim no legislative expertise beyond the “I’m Just a Bill” song from Schoolhouse Rock, but the point is that laws can be changed, and there’s a process for doing so currently underway at the State Capitol, you may have heard of it. 

There’s also the 6th Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing the accused a right to a speedy trial, which has, in some states been expanded to Victims’ Rights laws. In Georgia, since 1995, crime victims have the right to “proceedings free from unreasonable delay.” Sounds like the 1995 law conflicts with the 1905 law, (or its 2006 amendment) -but I believe Georgia still has Appellate and Supreme Courts charged with resolving such conflicts, and perhaps there’s at least one attorney in Georgia not paralyzed by fear of David Ralston who could take the matter up.

What the outrage brigade seeking Ralston’s scalp fails to note is that getting rid of the current speaker would leave the same ability to forestall judicial proceedings in favor of legislative proceedings in the hands of all other attorney-legislators, and any other attorney-Speaker. When “legality and morality don’t always align,” as one back-bencher has said, the proper response to align them, because it’s not David Ralston that’s “powerful,” it’s the office of Speaker of the House. Does the office have too much power in this instance? It would be interesting to find out, and perhaps even inform and educate the public in doing so.

But legislative process and judicial appeals are make for slow, complicated stories, often too tedious for an attention-span deprived public, eager for the outrage of the day, to bother with. Today it’s more profitable to personalize the political, isolate the target, and encourage your side to “Get him!” 

The pen is supposed to be mightier than the sword, but it seems that today’s media would rather push angry mobs into using clubs. 

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IrishPat
IrishPat

Well said Mike. If the law is delaying justice lets change the law. And I grow weary of this “I’m the only one with principles” approach to legislating that accomplishes nothing. There is not only room for, but also a real need for, both principles and pragmatism in public service.

xdog
xdog

Ralston’s a big boy, he can take a little hiding. But whether you think the latest kerfuffle is based on quality journalism or a series of hit pieces, you have to admit he’s been dancing on an ethical high-wire for a while. He dodged a review board bullet a couple of years ago when a non-Speaker lawyer might have faced heavier penalties. He’s shown himself willing to use job A to make job B easier; it’s one of his selling points with future customers. His firm’s motto is ‘Honest. Experienced. Results Driven.’ and cynics might say two out of three… Read more »

Gregs
Gregs

Yes, the law could be changed or the speaker could simply stop abusing the existing law. Let’s say we had a law like this for doctors who serve, would it be okay to put off a patient’s surgery just because you could? No the answer would be to let another doctor handle the case.

This is just more excuse making for the lack of ethics present in the states homogeneous party.

bethebalance
bethebalance

I tend to think that the Constitutional rights (to speedy trial) are of greater significance than state law, so that the adherence to the former is more important. But the state law does presume an element of good faith. And where the rubber meets the road in this case is how Ralston uses his power to schedule his different duties. An issue that’s definitely fair game for scrutiny. I don’t think you can blame the media for inciting opposition that some have to Ralston; the opposition was likely alive first. Ralston could get near-instant redemption if he sponsored a new… Read more »

Benevolus
Benevolus

Hahahahahaha.
Your last post was to (try to) denigrate Lucy McBath for being upfront and honest with her constituents. Now you are defending a guy for being deceptive, manipulative, and downright unethical.
Whatever.

Gregs
Gregs

And remember the piece telling us that there is no effort to suppress or disenfranchise voters anywhere? This should certainly inform any reader of the biases of the blogger.

Grindelwald
Grindelwald

Y’all give Mike a break. He spends hours hovered around the oven baking up the piping hot takes for y’all… I’m torn. On the one hand, Mike is so frequently wrong about so many things, it’s hard to fathom a universe where he makes a good point. On the other hand, Erick Erickson gets his panties bunched over the dumbest things ever since Trump stripped him of the last shards of credibility he owned. Legislative duties should trump court calendars. But just because something is a law doesn’t mean once can’t abuse it for personal benefit. From everything I’ve read,… Read more »

alpha male
alpha male

Ralston’s political problem is that he is a republican . Unlike the dems , this type of scuzziness does not go over well in the gop. But yea, it’s the law. And that law needs to be changed pronto.

bethebalance
bethebalance

Partisanship doesn’t explain Erickson’s or Boortz’s positions, or the Republican legislators who have called for Ralston’s resignation, nor does it explain Barnes’ representation, or Abrams’ deference, etc. etc. etc., etc.
Your partisan lenses need cleaning.

Gregs
Gregs

So it looks like the corrupt speaker helped write the law that he’s now abusing.

https://www.ajc.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/ralston-helped-write-the-law-allowing-him-delay-criminal-cases/fIfNKIgYXXFAAIEiC6NbAJ/

Sounds just about right for the ethics of the state’s homogeneous party.

Chatsprint
Chatsprint

Nobody is thrashing Ralston for being both an attorney and Georgia’s Speaker of the House.
Why begin your entire commentary with a falsehood ?
He’s being thrashed for abusing the law to gain his clients an advantage.

If his name had a (D) at the end would you still feel he was being mistreated ?

An attorney told me many years ago: “delays favor the accused”.
Ralston is using that time tested strategy to gain a favorable judgement for his clients.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

“As an attorney, David Ralston is obligated to vigorously defend his clients, even clients accused of serious crimes, even clients he may dislike. ….. As a legislator, he has legislative duties that he and all other lawyer-legislators prioritize over judicial matters when the two are in conflict.” The issue is that using the latter to in the cause of the former is unethical. Facts seem to indicate it is occurring. It’s noteworthy that Ralston as Speaker has more control than any other Representative of the scheduling of some of his legislative duties. I guess Mike thinks we should all be… Read more »

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

Correction: Simon’s post is dated 08 May 2014 at which time Ralston was Speaker. That doesn’t much denigrate gratefulness for it coming to attention a second time.

chefdavid
chefdavid

Notice the silence of House Democrats. One the are in the minority so speaking out could cause great retribution. Two They may be scared a more conservative would take his place. Or three, the great golden egg, they are waiting until 2020 and if he is still speaker they will try and use this to flip the GA House. Imagine the commercials.

Gregs
Gregs

Looks like the pressure has gotten to corrupt speaker Ralston and now he’s appointing the requisite “blue ribbon” panel needed to bury this story. This will work because the democratic party in this state is so afraid of offending him, they won’t keep the heat on.

https://www.ajc.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/ralston-seeks-changes-law-letting-lawmakers-delay-criminal-cases/drjqkX0Ljs7RdH2thdHekO/

chefdavid
chefdavid

This is wonderful. He is the Champion for victims who’s court has been put off by legislators abusing their lawmaker privilege to delay cases. #merica